Grow Together

The Magic of Mushrooms

Mushrooms range from delicious to dangerous. Look beyond the ubiquitous buttons in the supermarket and you’ll find wonderfully diverse varieties grown right here in the Bay.

Mushrooms range from delicious to dangerous. Look beyond the ubiquitous buttons in the supermarket and you’ll find wonderfully diverse varieties grown right here in the Bay.

Mushrooms are truly incredible; some deliciously edible and some quite terrible. But there’s way more than meets the eye with these fun guys…

For starters, humans and animals are more closely related to fungi than we are to plants and bacteria. This intriguingly spongy family holds the record for being the oldest and largest living organism on earth to date. The fungi whānau has more than 1.5 million different species, of which only about 20,000 produce the fruiting bodies that we call mushrooms.

And while mushrooms can be a nutritious and tasty part of our diet, and sometimes used for medicinal purposes, some are poisonous, so an element of caution needs to be taken before you eat that mushroom you found in the park while walking your dog.

A mushroom is the reproductive part of a larger fungal mass called mycelium, which consists of lots of root-like fibres called hyphae, that spread underground. Just as plants have roots, the bulk of fungi live and grow in the soil, and these networks grow through the ground in search of food. Unlike humans, who have an internal digestive system,

fungi gets its energy by breaking down and digesting its food externally. As the age-old questions goes: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, it seems fungi hear the sound of food falling and the mycelium comes a-runnin’. Fungi are well known to be great decomposers. They breakdown material that has died and recycle it into available nutrients for other life (such as plants) to consume for growth. However, there are some types of fungi that actually help plants to grow. These types of fungi are called mycorrhizal fungi and they form a mutually beneficial relationship with living plants. The threads of the mycorrhizal mycelium latch on to the roots of a plant and the whole fungal network becomes an extension of the plants root system, gathering more water and nutrients than the plant would normally get on its own. In exchange, the fungi absorb the carbon-rich liquid that the plant excretes from their roots as a food source for its growth.

This relationship is more prevalent in longer living woody trees that provide lots of shade for the fungi than it is in fleshy vegetables with a shorter life span. That being said, there are delicious edible mushrooms, like the wine cap variety, that happily grow in all-day sun alongside your favourite vegetables.

The delicate native pekepeke-kiore, which is also known as coral tooth

Mushroom medley

Here at home, in our beautiful Bay of Plenty, I’m very pleased to say that there are plenty of different edible mushrooms that we can grow, buy or forage. As I cautioned before, you really have to be 100 percent certain about a mushroom found in the wild, or even in your garden, before ingesting it, as there are mushrooms out there with serious, even deadly, consequences. However, if you are a mushroom lover like myself, then I would highly recommend getting down with these edible varieties:

Tawaka

A delicious semi-firm native mushroom with a rich, earthy and slightly savoury chocolate flavour — think about a cross between shiitake and portobello. It can be found growing on the native tawa tree but can also be grown on deciduous softwoods, such as poplar and willow.

Pekepeke-kiore

Also known as coral tooth, this native mushroom can be found growing wild on dead hardwood logs. A harder one to cultivate for the home grower, it has a very unique flavour (that has been likened to cauliflower) with the texture of crab meat. Being closely related to the lion’s mane variety, which is widely used medicinally, it shares the same compound that has been proven helpful to improve cognitive function, memory and heal damaged nerves.

Oyster

An absolute beauty of a mushroom and a personal favourite both in taste and aesthetics. Popular across the globe, it’s one of the easier mushrooms to cultivate at home. Oysters can come in a range of colours, including pink, blue and yellow varieties, and are mildly chewy with a slight seafood flavour.

Enoki

Popular in Japanese, Chinese and Korean cuisine, you’ll find enoki floating in ramen bowls and hot pots. They have a firm and slightly crunchy texture, with a mild nutty, fruity flavour.

New Zealand shiitake

Shiitake are native to East Asia but a native shiitake strain that has been found in New Zealand native forest boasts the same (if not better) delicious sweet and savoury flavours, and firm, chewy texture. Traditionally cultivated on stacks of deciduous hardwood logs, these mushrooms have also been used medicinally throughout Asia for centuries.

Wine cap

Another one of the easier GYO (grow your own) mushrooms. They are also called garden giant as they tolerate more sun than most other mushrooms and can grow up to 30cm wide and just as tall! Mild and earthy in taste, and meaty in texture. Great to have in your garden to help build healthy soil.

From left to right: portobello, enoki, shiitake and oyster mushrooms.

All of these mushrooms are currently being cultivated in the Bay of Plenty with mush success by the talented and knowledgeable folks at Mārama’s Mushrooms (see story at ourplacemagazine.co.nz). Not only do Billy and the team grow and sell these mushrooms year round, but you can also purchase blocks to grow your own at home. You’ll find them at the local farmers’ markets, so if you’re mad about mushies, get there, have a yarn and grab yourself some locally grown fungi goodness.

maramasmushrooms.nz  @maramasmushrooms

Guide to Autumn Planting

As the temperature gradually drops and the days get shorter, it’s time to plant out the crops that will last through the winter and get them to a good size before the cold slows growth right down. These crops are frost hardy, have a long harvest window and usually become sweeter as the temperature cools.

The following lists are all ordered in the height of foliage, from shortest to tallest. It’s a great idea to picture the crop that you are planting in its maturity as this will give you an idea of how much space and time to give each crop. Think of walking through a forest and get some layers going!

Herbs

Thyme, oregano, mint, chives, coriander, parsley, sage, sorrel.

Vegetables

Rocket, spinach, radish, mesclun mix, leaf lettuce, pak/bok choi, head lettuce, garlic, spring and big onions, carrots, beetroot, leeks, perpetual spinach, chard, silverbeet, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, kale, Brussels sprouts, broad beans, snow and sweet peas

You can read our previous Grow Together columns, which include how to prepare your soil for planting, and create a food forest with fruit trees and vegetables.
For more gardening content, follow Jim @gardennearsy and @homefarm

By Jim Annear
Photography by ilk